Why You Should Teach Kids to Be Naturalists

Every parent who has been through the inquisitive toddler stage is familiar with this conundrum: Young children often want to know far more about the things we forgot from our 6th grade science classes than what we remember.

“But why does water freeze when it gets cold?”

“Why does the moon change shapes?”

“What kind of butterfly is that?”

I can muddle through the first two with pseudo-scientific and possibly correct explanations, but the last one gives me pause. Often, I have to say “A yellow one,” and move on. It’s not that I want to brush off their inquisitiveness. Typically, I just don’t have the answer. Knowing the names of local plants and animals is a skill most of us have lost over the last several generations.

But giving our children a naturalist’s education can be a powerful way to help develop science and language skills, as well as provide them with a deeper connection to the world around them.

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If you think about it, we already spend plenty of time teaching children the names of animals – just not ones they are likely to see. My son’s blankets are dotted with giraffes, elephants, and monkeys. They read alphabet books where P is is for Penguin and W is for Whale. They can name a dozen dinosaurs, but I am certain they will never stumble upon one in real life.

The animals they do come in contact with on a day to day basis – tree sparrows, chickadees, European starlings – we tend to overlook. Because they are common place, we ignore them despite knowing little about them. Until a few years ago, I hardly even knew the names of any birds besides crows and robins.

Children’s brains, however, are primed for putting names to the objects that fill their environment. But as kids spend more and more time indoors, their naturalist tendencies for cataloging have honed in on corporate brands. A 2010 study found that children as young as preschool age can already recognize brands such as Toyota, Disney, and McDonald’s. Nearly 93 percent of children in the study could recognize McDonald’s Golden Arches.

In his book “How to Raise a Wild Child”, Dr. Scott Sampson asserts that children today can recognize 1,000 corporate logos but as few as 10 plants native to their area. This imbalance is not…

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